One of the questions which routinely gets asked in intra-Catholic debates about how anti-abortion principles should be acted on in the political arena (usually by people who are looking for a justification for supporting a 'pro-choice' candidate whose stances on other issues they like) is: Given the powers of the office in question, and given the current Supreme Court precedent in Roe v. Wade, how much is a politician's stance on the abortion issue going to actually make a difference?
Politically progressive Catholics tend to make the argument that since electing anti-abortion candidates doesn't seem to be overturning Roe anyway, that it's more pro-life to elect candidates who will "remove the root causes abortion" (which are theorized to be things such as a minimum wage under $15/hr, lack of nationalized health care, and failure to provide unlimited free pudding) even if they are not in favor or enacting any legal limits on the practice itself.
This in turn has the propensity to make conservative Catholics collective blood boil.
What, we are asked, is so important about voting for candidates who are in favor of banning or limiting abortion if they succeed very little in actually banning or limiting it?
Well, I think there is a value in it, though perhaps primarily a symbolic one. Still, symbolism is far more important than it is generally given credit for. It seems to me that our system of laws is, to a great extent, the most commonly accepted codification of what is "good" and what is "bad" that remains in our multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-faith society.
Further, our elected representatives are, in a republic, to an extent representatives of our collective beliefs and political desires.
I think most of us implicitly realize this. For instance, if a politician announced that he personally believed that wives should be the physical property of their husbands and have no rights, I think most of us would consider him an unacceptable candidate for office -- even though our current legal precedents would make it absolutely impossible for him to in any way implement this particular set of beliefs of his. Still, even if his other beliefs were all extremely laudable (and even if he'd promised not to allow his beliefs on wife ownership affect the way he dealt with employees and fellow politicians) I think people would generally agree that someone holding such a set of convictions was unworthy of office.
I would maintain that there are certain stances (those which are sufficiently morally or politically repugnant to us) which should simply rule a candidate out from ever receiving our support, no matter how unlikely the offensive stance is to actually result in any real political action.
Similarly, there are things which are worth keeping illegal, even if we could theoretically make them "safer and rarer" by legalizing them. (I would consider prostitution an example of this. It may be true that prostitution could be more successfully limitted and regulated if it were legal, but I think it would send a sufficiently wrong message to legalize it that the practical benefits of doing so, even if one of those practical benefits was a reduction in total sex trafficing activity, would not justify the wrong moral message that the legalization would send.)
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